It wasn’t exactly a dream job. After seventeen years in the navy it was kind a step down to become the ‘first mate’ for a hip-hop superstar named D-Boss on a sixty-foot blinged-out mega yacht he called the Pimp Wagon. The gig paid well enough, but Goddamned if he didn’t stress me into a stroke with all his crazy demands:
Late night skeet shooting from sideways slanted pistols. A steering wheel centered by twenty-four inch backward spinning rims. Twelve-foot speakers mounted on the stern that sent the vessel rattling like a giant egg timer.
Then there was the night D-Boss wanted entertainment but the stripper got seasick and spent the evening bent over the starboard rail.
“Yo, Navy Boy!” he called. I slumped inside the rec room, packed with bodies decked out in glittering chains and day glow blue. The air too thick to count the eyes aimed my way, D-Boss somewhere in the back behind those mirrored sunglasses and Cuban cigar.
He wanted some ‘navy songs,’ whatever that meant.
“I’m sorry, Boss. I don’t sing.”
“What you mean, you don’t sing?”
I answered, a clenched jaw roping in my rage. “I mean, I am here to steer the yacht. I am the captain. I am not the entertainment.”
Then came the crumpled up dollars and jeers…
I chose Anchors Aweigh, all three verses, then slumped outside.
“My man talking about ‘I don’t about sing.’ You remind a motherfucker who’s in charge, and they sing,” D-Boss bellowed just loud enough for me to catch on my way out.
With this move he had pushed himself into a whole new category of annoying. He was now more that just a pain in the ass. He had become a guy who’d better watch his back, what with those suitcases of cash he lugged around, impressing the strippers and drug dealers and hustlers known to set sail aboard the Pimp Wagon. He’d become a guy who might lose a suitcase or two if he wasn’t careful. Or maybe even wind up with a bullet in his skull.
After a week or two of plotting, the plan seemed to make too much sense to shrug off as a hot-headed revenge fantasy. And the sidekicks I needed to pull it off were already in place – they just didn’t know it yet.
* * *
I knew it wouldn’t take much to nudge Brodey into my plans. A Townie from Natick, this pale, overworked ‘domestic assistant’ spent too much of the last four years cleaning up after weed-scented parties and drunken fistfights. Raised by parents who spent the seventies seething over what was happening to the neighborhood, Brodey’s blood simmered at just the temperature needed to serve as an accomplice. He was a hate crime waiting to happen.
“God damned bling monkeys,” he growled, slinking out of the bathroom with a mop. “Fuckers don’t even aim for the toilet anymore.”
I offered a smile that went unreturned, then tossed him a beer.
“Job can’t be that bad. You’ve stuck it out for four years,” I said.
“Four years of looking for something else and finding bupkis. I guess the missus just picked the wrong time to have twins.”
“Brodey, my friend I get the feeling your luck is about change. According to my crystal ball there’s a very good chance you’re going to stumble into big money this weekend.”
He lifted an eyebrow and leaned in. “Yeah?”
“You know what’s happening Saturday night, right?”
“Weed supplier making a visit,” he sighed. “That means strippers, messy sheets, loud fights.”
“It also means suitcases full of cash.”
His already guilty eyes darted across the hull.
“It’d be a shame if something happened to one or two of those suitcases. Wouldn’t it?” I offered.
His smile lifted away the angry red mask he was seemingly born with. He didn’t say it and I didn’t have to ask. But I now knew I had a teammate in this plan.
* * *
Things with Ruthie were a little more complicated. At least a decade too old for this shit, she cooked for D-Boss and played forgiving grandma to her demanding employer without once letting that winning smile slip away. Nothing wrong with the boy that a trip behind the woodshed with a switch couldn’t cure as far as she was concerned.
I always wondered what kind of rage bubbled under that matronly grin. But there were questions you didn’t ask Ruthie because there were answers you didn’t want to hear. There was an icicle dangling from that honey-sweet drawl that told me she didn’t spend her early years getting dressed up for debutant balls. And here she was in her sixties, serving D-Boss on bended knee like a medieval serving wench. We were sailing through the Mediterranean, just past The Greek Isles, but maybe she hadn’t traveled that far from Birmingham Alabama of the fifties after all.
“Rough day, Ruthie?” I greeted her as she hobbled to a seat on the port deck.
“Child, they all rough at my age. But you ain’t gon’ hear me sing the blues.”
I was at the wheel. Her gaze stayed locked on the horizon and the breathtaking landscape floating past us. It was stunning enough to make her forget where she was. Until the next meal’s demands would drag her back in.
“Tonight looks like it’ll be even rougher,” I announced.
“Yeah, we gonna get company this evening,” she said. She was humming some gospel song to herself now.
“Our boss better be careful with those suitcases,” I said, offering the bait. “It’d be a shame if something happened to one of them. Or maybe both of them.”
Nothing. Not a sound, not a nodded head, not a single unspoken desire bobbing to the surface. Just more humming.
After dinner, she found her seat again, fanning herself and humming the same song as if to tell me that nothing had changed.
But then a familiar baritone whipped through the Mediterranean air: “Yo, navy boy! We need some entertainment!”
An idea: “Ruthie, can you go see what he wants? Tell him I’m kind of busy at the wheel.”
Ruthie climbed to her shaky legs and shuffled into the rec room. She didn’t like this order, but she did as she was told – a reflex, I guess.
I could hear everything from the deck, not that I needed a play-by-play to guess the outcome. Every word yanked a cringe from me: D-Boss’s urging for some ‘church music,’ Ruthie’s polite refusal. Then her surrender. Then her song:
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.
She released this in a siren-like wail that soared miles above the humiliation of the moment, aimed at a world well beyond the adolescent antics. She was free from the nonsense, immune to the nakedness the mock applause sought to create. Or was she?
The smile was still there but only to those not really paying attention.
I was paying attention. I could see that she emerged from the rec room a different Ruthie. Not an angry one, exactly, not seething with a hunger for vengeance. Just exhausted, ready for a change no matter where it took her. She was determined, striding. Marching as to war.
* * *
The staff bathroom was cramped with three occupants: Brodey, Ruthie and me. We spoke quickly and quietly, awaiting the next order and plotting the first strike.
“Step one, we wait till everybody’s asleep,” I said. “We check the rec room, the guest suites, the bathrooms, the deck.”
Brodey nodded. Nothing from Ruthie, but in this case, nothing meant everything was cool.
“Step two…” I reached into my bag, grabbed a pump action shotgun, showed it to Brodey. Placed a .45 in Ruthie’s shaking hands, then pulled it from her uncertain grip. “We do this right, we don’t have to use these.”
Brodey released a disappointed sigh.
“Step three, you follow my lead. I’ll have the lifeboat ready for us seconds after we scoop up the cash. Then I’ll make an anonymous call to the coastal authorities, tell them we’ve been hit by Somali pirates. By the time they arrive, we’re gone, presumed to be dead.”
A hush fell over us. Then came my question: “Are we ready to do this?” One head nodded, the other did nothing. Brodey was born ready for this. So my question was really for Ruthie.
And her answer: A half-hearted nod, her gaze tumbling to the floor, her lips locked tight, determined to keep every clue concealed. For the moment that would just have to do.
* * *
As the sun crept over the rocky outline around us, I could feel it was time to strike. We’d been up all night, buzzed by the thought of our upcoming payday and unable to sleep anyway with all the shouting matches, vomiting and the bass pounding and pounding like The Gestapo on their way up the stairs.
After a nod to Ruthie and Brodey, I made the rounds.
Guest suite one: two sleeping bodies – a nude stripper stacked atop a fat rapper-wannabe from the Philippines named Quan Quan.
Guest suite two: four bodies, all sleeping, all naked.
Guest suite three: empty. Or maybe not. On second glance that stack of coats on the chair was really a matching set of twin strippers handcuffed together but somehow lost in slumber anyway under a blanket and sheet like this kind of thing happened all the goddamn time.
Rec room: I found D-Boss with two suitcases, quickly confirmed to be full of hundred dollar bills. He had company – two strippers – but nobody was awake and nobody seemed in a hurry to wake up.
With a wave to my teammates, everything sprang into motion. Brodey grabbed the cash as I scurried across the hull to get the lifeboat.
Ruthie gave me the self-assured nod I was hoping for the night before, then drifted into place.
It was all too easy. Until I heard the gun shot. It came from the rec room – and not from Brodey’s shotgun.
I charged inside, pulled in by the loudest, angriest squeal ever made by a mammal.
It might have been a good idea to have my gun drawn. Because there was D-Boss, pistol raised and stylishly tilted.
“Wha’s up, navy boy!”
Nothing to do here but raise my hands and hope he gets a clean shot to my head. No slow, agonizing death for me, thank you.
“Can you think of a reason why I shouldn’t pop a cap in yo’ ass?”
Nothing came to mind. And damned if I wasn’t searching…
TO BE CONTINUED
Tomorrow’s Lunch Break Crime Read: Mutiny on the Pimp Wagon Part Two.